HH: I’m joined now by satellite phone from Baghdad by intrepid reporter Michael Yon. He’s actually in Baquba. Michael, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, always a pleasure to speak with you. How goes the fighting on the ground?
MY: Well, it’s really slowed down here in Baquba, Hugh. I was just in the TOC or the headquarters about fifteen minutes ago before I came on the show, and they were like the Maytag repairmen here. I mean, Baquba has just…you know, it was a very serious fight when it started, Operation Arrowhead Ripper on the 19th of June, I came in with them, but it quickly abated. The people have just turned against al Qaeda here. And so Baquba is really, the big fight now is to get the food distribution working again, which it already is. You know, they’ve got that going. And now, they’re working on fuel, because the fuel relates to electricity and water pumping. So really, they’re working on more civic things now. There’s still some combat to do, but not a lot, actually, because like I said, you know, the people just turned against al Qaeda.
HH: Now Michael Yon, a lot of people don’t know the significance of Baquba. And so can you explain what peace in Baquba means for the larger war effort?
MY: Well, it’s huge, because al Qaeda had claimed Baquba as their capitol, their worldwide capitol. And you might recall one of the things that kind of upsets people about my reporting is I said Iraq was in a civil war, and I said that way back in February of 2005, and I continue to do so. But when I first wrote that, I was in Baquba, in 2005, and I spent two or three months here. And it was just total…you could see it, and you could see al Qaeda was trying to foment that civil war, because that’s their underlying strategy, is to do that. And so getting, fracturing al Qaeda here, and al Qaeda alienating so many Iraqis, it’s helping us to put a damper on the civil war.
HH: Now yesterday, Harry Reid said on the floor of the Senate that the surge has failed. Do you think there’s any factual basis for making that assertion, Michael Yon, from what you’ve seen in Iraq over the last many months?
MY: He’s wrong, he’s wrong. It has absolutely not failed, and in fact, I’m finally willing to say it in public. I feel like it’s starting to succeed. And you know, I’m kind of stretching a little bit, because we haven’t gone too far into it, but I can see it from my travels around, for instance, in Anbar and out here in Diyala Province as well. Baghdad’s still very problematic. But there’s other areas where you can clearly see that there is a positive effect. And the first and foremost thing we have to do is knock down al Qaeda. And with them alienating so many Iraqis, I mean, they’re almost doing it for us. I mean, yeah, it takes military might to finally like wipe them out of Baquba, but it’s working. I mean, I sense that the surge is working. Reid is just wrong.
HH: Yesterday, on CNN, Senator Joe Lieberman said we’ve got the enemy, al Qaeda, on the run. We’ve chased them out of Anbar Province. We’ve chased them now to Diyala. All of this is possible because of the surge. And then Michael Ware, whom I know you respect for his courage, went on with Anderson Cooper and said that I’m afraid that Senator Lieberman has taken an excursion into fantasy. Who’s telling the truth here, Michael Yon?
MY: Well, you know, al Qaeda’s not been wiped out of Iraq by any means, and there’s still some serious fighting to do. But what we have seen is if you give al Qaeda time, they will alienate the local population for us. So I mean, they almost prep it for us to get rid of them. You know, a lot of them that were not killed or captured here in Baquba in the last three weeks did move out to other places. So they’re not gone. I mean, so there’s some truth to what Mick Ware says. However, there are fewer and fewer hiding places for them to go. They can’t go to the south in Basra. They’re not welcome there. They can’t, there’s only a few places they can go to in Anbar, and those are drying up. There’s fewer places in Diyala, and what is left is drying up. They certainly cannot go to the Kurdish regions, because they will be killed. So they can still go to Nineveh, but the ISF in Nineveh is up where Mosul is the capitol. They can go up there, but the ISF, or the Iraqi Security Forces up there are pretty well advanced, and they can hold their own now, and I saw them doing it again earlier this year when I was back in Nineveh. You know, I spent a good part of 2005 up there. So you know, I’ve seen tremendous progress in different parts of Iraq, but this is not going to be solved in six months or a year. We’ve just got to settle in for the long haul, but you know, if you’ve been here long enough, you can see that progress is being made.
HH: Now Michael Yon, I want to interrupt this to give a commercial. You depend upon the contributions of people who value your reporting. You get online contributions. I’ve linked it at Hughhewitt.com. Have you got the resources to stay there as long as you want to stay there?
MY: I can stay here as long as the readers keep me here. You know, I’ve paid for it out of my pocket for the first seven months in 2005, and started to go broke at that point. But then the readers pitched in, and you know, as long as they keep supporting it, I’ll have no problem staying.
HH: And is the American military welcoming your reporting? I hope it is.
MY: Absolutely, especially the combat troops. You know, I’ve had a few problems with some of the higher ups, but I’ve had more of the higher ups support me. So in the end, I’m extremely welcome. I just got an invitation from the British to go to Basra, I’ve got numerous invitations from American units to either stay here or go to Afghanistan, so I mean, yeah, the welcome mat is definitely out.
HH: Now Michael Yon, you posted about the atrocities al Qaeda has been committing, including baking children. Can you…this is brutal, but I think the American people need to know who we’re up against, the people who don’t read www.michaelyon-online.com. Can you tell them what that story was, and what it tells you?
MY: Right, the story of the baking the children and serving it for lunch to the parents was, it was a story that an Iraqi official told me recently, but I was actually asking him, and I don’t have any verification on that, but I’ve subsequently asked others, and others have…there’s no proof, and I haven’t been trying to get proof of that. That’s just Iraqis talking. However, there was a mass grave, or is a mass grave about three and a half miles from where I’m standing now, and I went out there on June 30th, and the locals…actually, the locals from the village were gone. But the Iraqi army, 5th Iraqi army division, and our Army who cleared it, and some others who lived further out, said that that was al Qaeda, they had taken that village, and either murdered the people there, or ran the other ones out. And so we came into the graves, the kids had been decapitated, and the adults were killed somehow. And you know, just savages. I mean, they’d even shot their animals, I mean, which I photographed, and you know, those were the worst photographs I’ve ever published, but I told one of the Iraqi captains, his name was Captain Baker, I said you know, the American people need to see this, and I thought about it long and hard, and finally, I published those photos. And they’re pretty gruesome, but they just needed to be published.
HH: Now Michael Yon, what about the Baghdad situation? You recounted the successes in Diyala and Anbar, and in the south. What is your assessment of the situation in Baghdad? Is it getting better? Is the same? Or is it getting worse?
[Michael’s sat phone drops]
HH: Michael have we lost you? There went the satellite phone.
– – – –
HH: Michael, we lost you there. We’ve got about 45 seconds, so I just want to know, what’s the situation in Baghdad? Getting better, the same, or worse?
MY: Well, you know, I’ve been out of Baghdad for about a month, now, because I’ve been in Baquba. But to improve the situation in Baghdad, you have to improve the situation around Baghdad, because many of the attacks that are being launched in there are actually being prepared out here in these car bomb factories and what not. And so it’s these outlying areas which al Qaeda has been using to help foment the civil war. So if you want to see improvement in Baghdad, we need to secure places like Baquba, which Baquba is now secure.
HH: Michael Yon, always a pleasure. I’m telling people to get you some support via the website, and I’ve linked to your website at Hughhewitt.com. Look forward to checking in with you again soon.
End of interview.